In the first instalment of this two-part blog focusing on the team behind SIMS Primary, we introduced Stuart Sutton, our Lead User Interface (UI) Architect and Adam Peters, UI Architect, learning their individual roles in the team and their day-to-day work on the next generation of SIMS.
Looking ahead, while the SIMS Primary project has come a long way, there is still work to be done, something which Stuart recognises. He says: “We’ve still got things to learn – people are only just starting to use SIMS Primary and it’s been fine while it’s been a pilot and you’ve only got a small number of people using it.
“We can support them very easily, but our challenge is that when it really takes off we’re going to have to support tens of thousands of people so we need to have a system where people can just jump in and learn how to use it.
“Some of that should be through the design so you can just come in and it should be fairly obvious what you need to do; some areas we’re putting in lots of help text and tool tips, things to guide you through and help explain what things do.”
At the centre of the next generation of SIMS is a more humanised approach to data; we understand that our systems are used by real people, so we want to ensure that we provide friendly and personal support, something that Stuart and his team are fully aware of. He explains: “We’re going to need to go through and provide help in some of our areas – it’s less about the software and more about understanding the process and the power of the software.
“Take some of our new screens, such as the pupil log, where it’s really about trying to get across why you should try to get value out of using it. If it’s not something that you need to use, then it’s our job to explain it – in this case, the pupil log is something that pulls together all the high-level information about a pupil on one screen.
“There are some nice charts and things like that, but it’s also a place where teachers can capture the kind of information that would normally get written on post-it notes.
“Trying to sell that is an interesting proposition, particularly in the type of language that we use to help explain it and show the value of something completely new and unused.”
As experts in the field of user interface and user experience, both Stuart and Adam have developed a great understanding for what works well and what doesn’t. When asked for his favourite examples of UI, Adam clearly favours a streamlined and slick experience. He says: “Hmmm, what do I use a lot? I guess I like the new Google UIs, which they’ve been rolling out recently across all their new products.
“I like how they work – they’re normally a bit basic or for advanced users, which is the sort of thing I deal with day to day so it’s not much of an issue. They’re simplistic and I like that.
“I also like the UI on Android – I quite like the new Android P; it’s a very shiny and slick interface.”
Stuart, meanwhile, is an avid cyclist in his spare time, regular logging huge miles on a weekly basis – as such, it comes as no surprise that his favourite user experiences come from programmes along those lines. He says: “In terms of products that I use, it’s fitness apps for me – they’re the ones that I go on.
“I look at Strava and see what I’ve been doing – I can compare myself to other people and it gives me statistics for how I’ve done today compared to yesterday. I love all that and I’m really into all of it. I’ve never really been a particularly competitive person, but all of a sudden I find myself being competitive and I think schools could do the same sort of thing.
“I find it really interesting because that’s where I see our product eventually going – being able to make live dashboards that aren’t just some kind of pretty charts, they’re actually telling you something and then it’s asking you: ‘what can you do about this?’
“Like in Strava, I might look at a workout and say: ‘well, I didn’t do very well on that – what can I do about it? What do I need to focus on to improve that?
“If we could get more comparative data into our system – it’s all very good saying ok, where am I, here’s this statistic about your attendance, but when you stack that against your colleague or the school down the road, or all the schools across the country, it’s those things that give you much more of a kick to do something about it, or if you’re doing really well, to be able to be proud of it and celebrate success.”
In the next phase of the SIMS Primary project, Adam and Stuart are continuing to work on areas designed to improve everyday classroom life, creating functionality to replicate the ways that teachers currently work. Stuart explains: “We want to create something that allows teachers to build simple lists – they tend to create and print out lists of their class and be able to do something with that information for various purposes.
“We might not always be sure what they want to do that for, but if they want access to that information, then here’s the tool to do that.
“The dashboards I think are going to be really exciting, creating a much simpler way to build quite sophisticated displays. I’m very interested to see how we can make statistics really drive school improvement, so it’s about us being able to build it, but there’s also an aspect of being able to train somebody and make them a more powerful user of the system.”
The development of SIMS Primary continues to move forward at rapid pace, with new features and visual representations surfacing on a daily basis. From the first time I saw the initial sketches of what was being proposed, I felt we had a game-changing approach to managing and presenting school data. That’s thanks to individuals throughout our various teams with outstanding vision and knowledge, such as Adam and Stuart, who bring the wishlist of features to life in the work they do.
Find out more about the next generation of SIMS, SIMS Primary, via our dedicated microsite or register for regular updates. Alternatively, read the previous editions of our Behind the Scenes series, focusing on Tools for Teachers and Dashboards.